The age-old culture of student inebriation is notorious, but nothing quite prepared me for the realities of settling into the university scene at Durham. When I arrived in my Freshers’ Week in 2018, I knew vaguely what to expect from university life, but I wasn’t prepared for the influence of drinking culture on students in Durham. On arrival, there was an unspoken dogma everywhere to ‘partake’ in this new university life stage through drinking games and big nights out. It was the way to meet people and make new friends in this new and unusual place, acting almost like an ‘ice-breaker’ activity for fresh 18-year-old university students.
I immediately knew the Durham drinking culture wasn’t for me. As an introvert, my ‘people meter’ ran out very quickly and I didn’t end up attending the last few party events during Freshers’ Week. I instead opted to stay in my room to wind down from the past few days of psychological and physical torment I put myself through. In short, I really didn’t enjoy my first introduction to the Durham drinking culture, and 3 years later I still can’t say I particularly enjoy it. The notion that a night out with friends must begin with pre-drinks, lead to a bar crawl and finish in a club isn’t particularly appealing to me. It was fun at first and served as a nice introduction to an aspect of the wider Durham student experience. However, in time when I realised every society utilised it as the de facto approach to ‘having fun’, it quickly lost its appeal.
The truth is, while drinking is fun in the moment, in excessive amounts it can be accompanied by several dangers. According to a 2016 NUS report, 85% of university students consider inebriation a norm for their university experience. Of course, drinking in moderation likely doesn’t pose significant harm, however, a 2016 report by Cochrane UK indicates an estimate that one in five university students are likely to have a diagnosable alcohol use disorder. This statistic may have fluctuated due to the last two years of Covid regulations and lockdowns, but with the progressive relaxation of the Covid rules, it doesn’t seem unlikely that the drinking culture will return to its pre-Covid margins.
So, what is the issue with excessive drinking? The effects of alcohol vary depending on the quantities consumed, but in short, excessive drinking can lead to mental and physical health problems. According to Drinkware UK, regular heavy drinking interferes with the chemicals in the brain vital for good mental health. For people experiencing anxiety, hangovers following alcohol consumption may make anxiety symptoms worse. Drinking heavily and regularly is also associated with symptoms of depression, self-harm or even suicide. Given the immense pressure university students are under, juggling their personal lives, university coursework and job-hunting, the desire to drink and ‘take the edge off’ is understandable. However, if lost in the depths of university drinking culture, significant alcohol consumption may prove to be counterproductive, or even dangerous.
As an exhausted third-year law student, I profess that I don’t ‘drink’ on nights out, and it often seems like I’m the only one that does so. I emphasised ‘drink’ with quotation marks because I often order a half-pint that I sip on throughout the evening, so calling myself completely ‘alcohol-free’ isn’t entirely accurate. I drink enough to blend in with the college bar, but not so much as to overdo it. I make the conscious decision to not consume alcohol on a regular basis for two reasons: I know myself and I know my limits. I know that if I drink too much too often, especially when under third-party pressure, I will spend days recovering and feeling miserable, my work won’t get done and I will be disappointed with myself. In the end, I’ll realise that I didn’t even particularly enjoy drinking in the first place, and my inner introvert will reprimand me for my poor choices.
For anyone feeling queasy about their place within the Durham drinking culture, my two pieces of advice are to know yourself and to know your limits. The short-term effects of regularly indulging in the societal pressures of the Durham drinking culture are not worth the potential long-term effects excessive alcohol consumption can have on your mental and physical health, personal lives, university coursework or even job prospects.
Illustration credit: Rosie Bromiley